Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category


Grading with Google Docs

Flubaroo by is a very interesting little script for grading multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank responses via Google Docs spreadsheets. You need a Google account and have to take a few steps to install the script, but it’s promising. I’m a great fan of anything that minimizes the numbers of sites and services I need to use, and if I can keep it all with Google then I’m very happy. (via at Google+)

Want to know more about Flubaroo? Like where the name came from? How other educators use it? Want to get your questions answered live by the creator of Flubaroo, and other educators? Want to learn a little bit about Google Apps Script, the code that Flubaroo is written in?

Then tune in tomorrow, May 2nd at 6pm EST (3pm PST) to watch a live session on Flulbaroo and Google Apps Script, part of Google’s Education On Air Conference (eduonair).

To watch, visit this page ( a few minutes before the session starts….


Google Search EDU

I consider myself an excellent researcher and a master of searching the web. This is a skill that I think all teachers should have, and this seems like a great way to get there. (via Google on Google+)

We’ve heard firsthand about the benefits of teaching students to become savvy searchers. Today we’re introducing a new resource for educators: our totally redesigned Search Education hub. Visit the site for classroom lessons based on Common Core Standards, subject-specific search challenges and a library of our most popular webinars:


Language Immersion (sort of) through Google

Holy wow! This is the coolest thing I’ve seen all week, and I’ve seen all kinds of cool stuff. I’m using this RIGHT NOW.

(If you’re not using Google Chrome by the way, you should. It transforms the web by making everything seamless across computers and even including your phone. You do have an Android phone, right?)

(via Google on Google Plus)

Immersion in a foreign language is one of the fastest paths to fluency. Of course, most of us can’t just zip off to Paris for a year to learn French. What we do have, though, is automatic translation technology. That got a few of us in Creative Lab thinking: could you simulate the immersion just a bit on the websites you visit every day?

To find out, we collaborated with Use All Five ( to work up a Chrome extension that uses the Google Translate API to translate intermittent phrases on a web page. Et voila! You can now browse the web in Frenglish, Spanglish or even Tagaloglish. But don’t cancel your Mandarin classes yet: this is just a little experiment that may delight (or infuriate) the neurolinguists in the house. If you want to play with it, you can install it here: Glücklich learning!

Video credits: Use All Five and Google Creative Lab

One neat application would be to correct the errors that Google Translate makes. For example, in Latin I looked at an NPR story that said ‘in improviso iter,’ which should be ‘in improviso itinere.’ Students could learn by being Latin copy editors.


Formatting Poetry, v.2

I’ve worked out a new working standard for marking up verse through ordered lists in HTML using CSS. Special thanks go to Alun Salt for sharing my Google+ post on the subject and Markos Giannopoulos for responding to Alun’s share with a very helpful tip about using what’s called an nth-child selector to simplify the markup.

You can hop over to my page on Formatting Poetry to see the old standard, and if you do you may notice that there was quite a bit less in the style sheet before.

While that may seem more advantageous, this new method seems to me to make far better use of CSS and eliminates a lot of unnecessary markup within LI (‘list item’) tags. Using the current markup the only thing you’ll be modifying is the OL (‘ordered list’) tag, whereas with the previous version you’d modify that as well as every fifth line and every indented line, which could amount to a daunting number of LI tags and a very tedious chore. That’s an awful lot of extra markup, and kind of flies in the face of what CSS is meant to do.


So here’s the new portion to be put into your style sheet:

/* New CSS for Formatting Poetry, Dennis McHenry, 3/29/2012. Thanks to
   Markos Giannopoulos for the hint about nth-child selectors, and to
   David Primmer for suggesting CSS comments to clarify usage. */

/* VERSE (.vrs)
   This marks the ordered list as a snippet (or more) of verse to be
   set with a given margin and with numbers suppressed, which will be
   called out as desired by another class (i.e., .s16, etc.). */

ol.vrs {

   For elegiacs (vel sim.). Verses are indented alternately beginning with the
   SECOND line cited. */

ol.in2 li:nth-child(2n+2) {

   For elegiacs (vel sim.), when the lines printed begin with an indented line. */

ol.in1 li:nth-child(2n+1) {

/* STARTING LINE (.s16, etc.)
   Show every line number which is a multiple of five, based on the final digit
   of the first line of the passage. If the final digit of the first line cited
   is a 1 or a 6, choose .s16; for a 2 or a 7 choose .s27; for a 3 or an 8
   choose .s38; for a 4 or a 9 choose .s49; and for a 5 or a 0 choose .s50. */

.s16 li:nth-child(5n+5) {

.s27 li:nth-child(5n+4) {

.s38 li:nth-child(5n+3) {

.s49 li:nth-child(5n+2) {

.s50 li:nth-child(5n+1) {

The first indicates the fact that you’re dealing with verse, and the next two may be used indicate which lines should be indented.

The remainder are used to ensure that line numbers appear only on the fives and the zeros, no matter which starting number you use (but you absolutely must indicate the correct starting number). 16, for example, means that your starting verse number is or ends with a 1 or a 6, and it tells the browser to show the numbers only for the fifth line and every fifth line after it. If you use 38, then it tells your browser to show the numbers only for the third line and every fifth line after it. And so on.


Propertius 3.17, 14–16.

<ol start="14" class="vrs in1 s49">
        <li>accersitus erit somnus in ossa mea,</li>
        <li>ipse seram vites pangamque ex ordine colles,</li>
        <li>quos carpant nullae me vigilante ferae.</li>
  1. accersitus erit somnus in ossa mea,
  2. ipse seram vites pangamque ex ordine colles,
  3. quos carpant nullae me vigilante ferae.

Lucan 1.8—12.

<ol start="9" class="vrs s49">
        <li>gentibus invisis Latium praebere cruorem?</li>
        <li>cumque superba foret Babylon spolianda tropaeis</li>
        <li>Ausoniis umbraque erraret Crassus inulta</li>
        <li>bella geri placuit nullos habitura triumphos?</li>
  1. gentibus invisis Latium praebere cruorem?
  2. cumque superba foret Babylon spolianda tropaeis
  3. Ausoniis umbraque erraret Crassus inulta
  4. bella geri placuit nullos habitura triumphos?

When I worked it out the first time I used an elegy by Housman, and the lines were formatted in this way (notice the extra, tedious markup on every other line):

The old markup:

<ol class="poem">
	<li>Signa pruinosae variantia luce cavernas</li>
	<li class="indent">noctis et extincto lumina nata die</li>
	<li>solo rure vagi lateque tacentibus arvis</li>
	<li class="indent">surgere nos una vidimus oceano.</li>
	<li class="show">vidimus: illa prius, cum luce carebat uterque,</li>
	<li class="indent">viderat in latium prona poeta mare,</li>
	<li>seque memor terra mortalem matre creatum</li>
	<li class="indent">intulit aeternis carmina sideribus,</li>
	<li>clara nimis post se genitis exempla daturus</li>
	<li class="insh">ne quis forte deis fidere vellet homo.</li>

The new markup:

<ol class="vrs in2 s16">
	<li>Signa pruinosae variantia luce cavernas</li>
	<li>noctis et extincto lumina nata die</li>
	<li>solo rure vagi lateque tacentibus arvis</li>
	<li>surgere nos una vidimus oceano.</li>
	<li>vidimus: illa prius, cum luce carebat uterque,</li>
	<li>viderat in latium prona poeta mare,</li>
	<li>seque memor terra mortalem matre creatum</li>
	<li>intulit aeternis carmina sideribus,</li>
	<li>clara nimis post se genitis exempla daturus</li>
	<li>ne quis forte deis fidere vellet homo.</li>

Notice how much simpler the new markup will be for anyone who chooses to employ it.

Result of the old markup:

  1. Signa pruinosae variantia luce cavernas
  2. noctis et extincto lumina nata die
  3. solo rure vagi lateque tacentibus arvis
  4. surgere nos una vidimus oceano.
  5. vidimus: illa prius, cum luce carebat uterque,
  6. viderat in latium prona poeta mare,
  7. seque memor terra mortalem matre creatum
  8. intulit aeternis carmina sideribus,
  9. clara nimis post se genitis exempla daturus
  10. ne quis forte deis fidere vellet homo.

Result of the new markup:

  1. Signa pruinosae variantia luce cavernas
  2. noctis et extincto lumina nata die
  3. solo rure vagi lateque tacentibus arvis
  4. surgere nos una vidimus oceano.
  5. vidimus: illa prius, cum luce carebat uterque,
  6. viderat in latium prona poeta mare,
  7. seque memor terra mortalem matre creatum
  8. intulit aeternis carmina sideribus,
  9. clara nimis post se genitis exempla daturus
  10. ne quis forte deis fidere vellet homo.

It is virtually identical, but the really important thing is that it’s much easier to do. There are no superfluous class attributes clogging the LI tags, and once you understand them, the classes for the OL tag are pretty intuitive: vrs in2 16 = “a bit verse alternately indented beginning with the second line, and cited from a line number ending in a 1 or a 6.”

Just remember that if the starting line is something other than 1, you need to add the ‘start’ attribute and the starting number, e.g., start=”2″, to the OL tag as in many of the examples above.


It can still be a little tedious to add the LI tag to each line of poetry, but if you’re using WordPress this can done automatically by pasting the block of text in the Visual Editor then highlighting the whole block and clicking the ordered list from the editing panel. If you switch back to the HTML Editor you’ll see that you have a perfectly formatted and very clean bit of markup, and need only add the starting number (if not 1) and the required classes.

Just beware of the Visual Editor potentially altering anything you might have done previously in the HTML Editor (e.g., those markup examples printed above became unreadable and had to be re-pasted).

I’m sure that other WYSIWYG editors can also make that part of the process a little easier, but otherwise the HTML editor is the way to go to ensure clean markup.

Maybe I’m getting carried away here, but I’ve added another optional bit that may be helpful for making a large block of verse a little easier to read: alternating background colors (white to light gray).

/* Slightly distinguish alternating lines with a light tone.
   Aesthetic option for easier web viewing of blocks of verse. */

ol.alt li:nth-child(2n+2) {
        background-color: #f9f9f9;

Homer, Odyssey 20.492–501.

<ol start="492" class="vrs s27 alt">
	<li>ὣς ἔφατ᾽, οὐδ᾽ ἀπίθησε φίλη τροφὸς Εὐρύκλεια,</li>
	<li>ἤνεικεν δ᾽ ἄρα πῦρ καὶ θήϊον· αὐτὰρ Ὀδυσσεὺς</li>
	<li>εὖ διεθείωσεν μέγαρον καὶ δῶμα καὶ αὐλήν.</li>
	<li>γρηῢς δ᾽ αὖτ᾽ ἀπέβη διὰ δώματα κάλ᾽ Ὀδυσῆος</li>
	<li>ἀγγελέουσα γυναιξὶ καὶ ὀτρυνέουσα νέεσθαι·</li>
	<li>αἱ δ᾽ ἴσαν ἐκ μεγάροιο δάος μετὰ χερσὶν ἔχουσαι.</li>
	<li>αἱ μὲν ἄρ᾽ ἀμφεχέοντο καὶ ἠσπάζοντ᾽ Ὀδυσῆα,</li>
	<li>καὶ κύνεον ἀγαπαξόμεναι κεφαλήν τε καὶ ὤμους</li>
	<li>χεῖράς τ᾽ αἰνύμεναι· τὸν δὲ γλυκὺς ἵμερος ἥιρει</li>
	<li>κλαυθμοῦ καὶ στοναχῆς, γίγνωσκε δ᾽ ἄρα φρεσὶ πάσας.</li>
  1. ὣς ἔφατ᾽, οὐδ᾽ ἀπίθησε φίλη τροφὸς Εὐρύκλεια,
  2. ἤνεικεν δ᾽ ἄρα πῦρ καὶ θήϊον· αὐτὰρ Ὀδυσσεὺς
  3. εὖ διεθείωσεν μέγαρον καὶ δῶμα καὶ αὐλήν.
  4. γρηῢς δ᾽ αὖτ᾽ ἀπέβη διὰ δώματα κάλ᾽ Ὀδυσῆος
  5. ἀγγελέουσα γυναιξὶ καὶ ὀτρυνέουσα νέεσθαι·
  6. αἱ δ᾽ ἴσαν ἐκ μεγάροιο δάος μετὰ χερσὶν ἔχουσαι.
  7. αἱ μὲν ἄρ᾽ ἀμφεχέοντο καὶ ἠσπάζοντ᾽ Ὀδυσῆα,
  8. καὶ κύνεον ἀγαπαξόμεναι κεφαλήν τε καὶ ὤμους
  9. χεῖράς τ᾽ αἰνύμεναι· τὸν δὲ γλυκὺς ἵμερος ἥιρει
  10. κλαυθμοῦ καὶ στοναχῆς, γίγνωσκε δ᾽ ἄρα φρεσὶ πάσας.

Linux Latīnē

I’ve just jettisoned Windows XP from my ten year old PC and installed Linux Mint.

I was pretty excited to learn how easy it was to designate a Compose key, which — together with a hyphen before the vowels a, e, i, o, and u — produces a vowel with a macron (so long as you use the U.S. international keyboard).

It’s just as simple as it is on a Mac, where the sequence is alt-a followed by the desired vowel.

Unfortunately the effort to translate the Gnome UI into Latin has never seemed to catch on.

Any other classicists out there using some form of Linux? It’s an interesting platform that I should’ve jumped into years ago.

I’m itching to learn a bit of programming along the way, and hope to do something useful in classics in the process. I’ve already got a few ideas, but there’s a long road ahead.


GapVis: Visual Interface for Reading Ancient Texts

You may know that I teach Latin in a public high school, and that my school is in the midst of a major technology push involving $2.4 million invested in MacBooks for teachers and iPads for all. Of course there’s the usual resistance — or at least disconnect — from faculty who are uncomfortable with technology. But I’ve made it a priority to find things that students can do to enrich their experience, and in my searches for iPad compatible site I was very pleasantly surprised to find GapVis.

GapVis is a product of GAP, the Google Ancient Places project, and has its roots in the HESTIA project, which focused on plotting places in Herodotus. GapVis expands on that idea by pulling texts on ancient history from Google Books and offering the reader a visualization of the places mentioned via Google Maps.

GapVis reading view

The "reading view" of the Histories of Tacitus, from GapVis.

I was so happy to find a site like this because, as any one who has read ancient history knows, without careful attention to geography, it can quickly become very difficult to follow texts with any real precision or deep understanding. Visualization is key, and is one of the reasons the Robert B. Strassler’s ‘Landmark’ series has been both so popular and so helpful.

GapVis can not yet approach what the ‘Landmark’ editions of ancient historians offer, such as carefully edited maps, scholarly appendices, and contemporary translations, but that’s not really the point. I think that what makes GapVis such a treasure is its interactive nature and its potential, even in a beta offering.

The texts are often problematic, considering the state of OCR text from scanned books that haven’t been carefully reviewed. And often places are misidentified by similarities in personal names, etc. But this can lead to productive activities for students and ensure a close reading of texts. Students may be assigned particular passages and asked to perform certain tasks, including checking the place identification and reporting problems to the GapVis team.

I think this is a tool to watch and one that has pedagogical potential even today. I’m looking forward to see where it goes.


Good Psych, Bad Latin

Sarah and I love Psych, a comedic take on Sherlock Holmes, which appears on the USA network.

Gus and Shawn from USA's Psych.

Shawn Spencer, a slacker with daddy issues, pretends to be psychic so that he can do the detective work his father trained him to do from boyhood without having to fulfill his father’s dream of actually becoming a cop (and having a boss and responsibility, and all the rest).

His best friend Gus (Burton Guster) is his Watson and provides the transportation (his little car, affectionately called the Blueberry), the common sense, the awareness of the outside world, the credit card, etc., (as well as ‘the super-sniffer’: his superior sense of smell, which helps the duo from time to time).

Detective Lassiter is Lestrade, and you might stretch things to say that Shawn’s father (played by Corbin Bernsen) is a sort of Mycroft Holmes, whom Sherlock consults when he’s stuck, but that’s gone far enough. If you think the psychic detective bit sounds like CBS’s the Mentalist (also worth watching), Psych came first and never tires of making fun of the similarity.

I bring this up not only because we’re fans of the show but because the latest episode, set in a town eerily like Twin Peaks (and populated by its cast), features Latin used by a teenage girl as a kind of code to keep her last diary entries private. (You can watch the episode online.)

Here’s a bad photo of the diary page in question:

And here’s a transcription:

EGO sentio sit absens haeres non erit.

Coepi seeing R quod sum valde gavisus. Must non dico J ut is mos non exsisto gavisus. Volo EGO could dico quispiam.

R est sic populus EGO cannot puto sit interested in mihi, totus meus amicitia es jelus.

Hodie EGO sermo ut R quod is said nos postulo impetro

It’s not Latin, but a kind of cypher that can be frustrating for a Latinist. Actually, it’s not really a cypher either, which I’ll explain in a minute. [Read more →]


Fewer Frills = Quicker CAMPVS

This is just a note to say that the CAMPVS has seemed ridiculously slow of late, and while the cute little Facebook and Twitter buttons attached to each post were fun for awhile, they seem to have at least contributed to the problem. They’ve been axed, and a few tweaks have been made as well, so load times should be severely diminished.

In other news, our son Ash turned 3 months today. We’ve been singing him the Latin alphabet song that I wrote some time back, and he seems to love it. While we were in Seattle I’d read to him from Xenophon’s Anabasis, and you’d think he understood and enjoyed the narrative.

So despite what I may have written in the past, this blog is now officially about how our baby is the cutest:


Typing in Ancient Greek

As an addendum to my last post I discussed methods for typing in Ancient Greek. I had been using Tavultesoft Keyman from my undergraduate days when others struggled to cite Greek in their papers, resorting to entering diacritics by hand. It was a long-standing habit, and I have to admit that despite the advances made by advocates for computing in the Classics, I hadn’t given any mind to the native capabilities of modern computing environments. Nathaniel commented on using the native Polytonic Greek keyboard, and it seems that it will do the trick for most users.

GreekKeys (mentioned in the last post) is still superior for scholars because it allows you to use characters that are not part of the encoding for this keyboard (e.g., digamma), and because it gives a nice Polytonic Greek font sponsored by the APA. This keyboard does allow you to type stigma, koppa, and sampi, which are primarily used for Greek numerals. (My mnemonic and chart on the Greek numerals really should get a few more hits!)

For this simple solution, however, (and assuming you’re using Windows) you’ll need to access the Text Services and Input Languages dialog box. If you already use multiple keyboards and know what the Language Bar is, then this won’t be a problem. Otherwise, you can get to it by clicking the following:

  1. Control Panel
  2. Regional and Language Options
  3. Languages (tab)
  4. Details (button)
  5. Add (button)
  6. (Input Language) Greek
  7. (Keyboard Layout/IME) Greek Polytonic.

If you play around with it you should fairly quickly figure out how to use the keys. Here’s a quick and dirty list of the keystrokes to note:

GreekKeys actually installs an alternative keyboard that functions in the same way. I’m not currently using GreekKeys on my work computer (the tech department doesn’t trust us to install anything, and I haven’t found the time to take the laptop in), but, again, I think it’s cleaner than the native keyboard (and I believe it includes support for more characters), and you do receive a nice font for your money, which in turn supports the APA.


Become a tech-savvy classicist in four simple steps

It seems that we classicists are often stuck in the past beyond just our interest in all things ancient. Fashionable theories in literary criticism finally emerge in our journals ten years after most modern language folks have (nearly) given them up, and many would-be tech-savvy classicists still hold to the long-dead notion that Macs beat PCs when it comes to dealing with Greek texts, etc.

But in many ways technology proves (or has proven) insufficient for us. It’s far easier and more comfortable to pull a book off the shelf than it is to fire up a web browser and ensure that the text encoding and fonts are properly set. This is to say nothing of the relative quality of texts available in printed, scholarly editions (with app. crit., etc.) and the myriad, problematic texts we find online, even from reputable sources. We have a certain revulsion to the ways that a clever user can ‘read’ challenging texts with the aid of morphological tools and parallel translations, and fear that such crutches will keep our students from becoming genuine Latinists and Hellenists. We may even fear that such technology will make us lazy, and that we’ll become lesser readers and scholars ourselves.

There are some legitimate concerns there, but ignoring technology does not remove them. Learning what’s available and learning how to use it well — that should be our goal.

For the cost of a simple USB flash drive you can enter the age of digital scholarship and become a more productive scholar from any computer with an internet connection. You can access virtually any file you need, keep all of your references at hand, and read an overwhelmingly large number of texts at virtually no cost.

Are you ready?

Access your stuff from anywhere

First, get yourself a free Dropbox account, and install the software to your personal computer. You’re given 2GB of online storage space, and whatever you place in your Dropbox folder on any computer on which it is installed will be synced with your online storage space. (Following my link will earn you an extra 250 MB.) You can access this space via the web, make changes, add or remove files, and everything will be synced in all locations. You can earn extra storage by spreading the word, and can purchase storage as well, but you shouldn’t need to. Just be judicious in what you place in the Dropbox.

Get mobile

USB drive
Next you’ll want to make sure you have a USB flash drive (or just about anything else you can use as an external drive, like an mp3 player). Make sure to keep this handy at all times. If you have access to a computer (virtually any computer, anywhere) you’ll be able to use this flash drive (in concert with your Dropbox) to maintain access to your most valuable resources, to keep your research up-to-date, and to read any Greek or Latin text available online without lugging around any dictionaries.

Here’s what you’ll need to do all that:

Firefox Portable
Install Firefox Portable to your flash drive. Whenever you’re not on your own computer, you can run this version of Firefox from your flash drive and maintain access to some resources that you would not be able to use otherwise: resources that make research and the reading of classical texts easier in odd places (like high school libraries, coffee shops, or anywhere where your PC and personal library of grammars and lexicons is not at hand).

Don’t forget to bookmark your Dropbox on the web!

Get organized

Get Zotero

From within Firefox Portable, install the Zotero extension. This will enable you to keep your scholarly citations (and so much more) always at hand. This browser add-on has the potential to help you become a better, more productive, and more organized researcher, less likely to lose references or double past research efforts.

That graphic should give you a quick indication of the range of things you do with zotero, which allows you not only to collect your sources, but to access them from other locations where zotero has been installed (e.g., on your home computer), to generate bibliographies in multiple formats, and to share research and references with colleagues.

Stay well-read

Also from within Firefox Portable install the Alpheios library extension and both the Greek and the Latin tools extensions. These will allow you to quickly and easily see Perseus-style pop-ups on Greek and Latin words on virtually any classical text online, showing both definitions and morphological analyses.

Simply double-clicking on a word brings up the information you need to work through a text quickly when your usual materials are not available.

These tools, if properly used, should help to make you more productive at times when you might otherwise feel at a loss without your usual resources.

ADDENDUM: Typing in Greek

A very good question from Lydia in the comments has alerted me to something I take for granted. I used an old version of Tavultesoft Keyman for several years, but it seems that all of the newer versions need to be purchased after a month. This utility allows you to install various keyboards to allow you to type in virtually any language with ease by downloading and installing various keyboard files.

A better option for classicists, though, is to give your money instead to the APA by purchasing GreekKeys:


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